rick mcginnis/metro toronto
812 Queen St. East
Tues-Fri: 8am – 5pm
Sat: 8am – 4pm
Sun: 8am – 3pm
Brunch for 2 w/tax & tip: $30
**** (out of five)
It’s a cherished myth that no French person will live further than a short bike ride away from a decent bakery, implying that civilized life requires fresh bread, along with clean air and water and regular garbage pick-up. They may be onto something, as any given neighborhood can be enhanced with the opening of a good bakery – one of those local staples that, like a Starbucks, can add a few thousand dollars to the price of a house.
Ten years after opening Bonjour Brioche, Laurie Feasson says that she always thought the Queen St. East corner just by the railway bridge near her home had potential, even when that stretch of the street near Broadview was in a slump. “I've always liked this corner lot,” she recalls. “When I used to drive by on my bicycle I always thought it would make a great bakery, but my husband kept saying 'It's too small, it's too small.' But I said, no, it'll work.”
Feasson’s French-born husband Henri was a baker, then working at the much-missed Ellipsis on College Street, and together the two of them opened the “little mom and pop operation,” squeezing their bake oven into the space and building a pastry kitchen in the basement. The closest brunch spot at that point was Hello Toast, the Leslieville brunch institution, and the name of their eatery was a playful swipe at their only competition. The big difference was that the tiny, nine-table dining room was really an afterthought to the bakery, which was always meant to be the focus of the aptly named Bonjour Brioche.
What that means is that on weekends when the weather is too wet or cold, those nine tables are surrounded by a line-up, and while Feasson says they can cope, she’s always encouraging locals to treat the place as a bakery more than an eatery.
“We're not gonna move, and we can't expand, so we try to encourage people to take stuff home. I'm always telling people, 'You know, the breakfast you get here you could easily take home. The fruit salad, the quiche, the French toast. The easiest entertaining you can do is brunch at home - you pick up some pastries, a quiche, open a bottle of champagne and you're set.”
If you can manage an off-hours visit, however, it’s worth it to sit by the window and bask in the sweet smell of fresh bread. The menu is heavy on egg dishes and sandwiches, but the trick is to order from the specials board, which might feature a rich lemon chicken soup, happily lacking the tart acidity of too many similar soups, or a tart larded with smoky bacon. A coffee and the small, sweet roll that gives the Feasson’s bakery its name is the best way to end the meal, either with jam or on its own. Leaving with a baguette or a quiche for later only confirms just the wisdom of the French – and real estate agents.